Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Impressions of Sem-Tech -07

Impressions of Sem-Tech -07

I just returned from the 2007 Semantic Technology Conference in San Jose California. It was a great conference and opened my mind to several new ideas. Well worth the time!

The conference was held over four days and had over around 125 presentations including tutorials and research projects. There were almost 800 attendees. This is the third semantic technology conference that I attended and the second that I presented a paper at.

Here are some high-level observations and some patterns that I detected.

The Semantic Web gets the “Web 3.0” Label

Most people at the conference have tried to embrace the idea that the semantic web will be adopting the popular culture label “Web 3.0”. The final straw was the Nov 2006 NYT article by John Markoff which set the blogosphere is a buzz. This was a web that includes technologies to enable intelligent reuse of data. Wikipedia, after a long pro-active discussion about if “Web 3.0” deserved an entry, finally undeleted the page and let is stand. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_3.0 and check out the discussion page on the article for more.

From If to When to How

Eric Miller (now at Zepheira) calls some of the new technologies “recombinant data. Eric spent about five years with the w3c. He is perhaps the most well-connected person in the world with accurate knowledge of who is using semantic web technologies to solve real business problems today. His observation was that three years ago at the first semantic technology we were wondering if the semantic web would take off. Last year the speculation was when the semantic web technologies would start to become common place. This year the focus was debates on how the semantic web should be implemented.

Venture Capitalists are Becoming Educated on the Semantic Web

One example of this is the fact that last year, most semantic-web startup companies had to carefully explain what the semantic web was to venture capital companies when trying to get their initial rounds of funding. This year, many venture capital companies not-only had some level of understanding of the semantic web but were asking each of their potential startups how their technologies fit into the semantic web. Other companies that did not have a semantic-web focus were not coming to the conference to get educated.

Some of the companies that got VC last year have already been purchased and absorbed by larger firms. These companies were replaced by new venture-funded companies.

Consensus on the RDF/SPARQL Foundation

One of the first things that struck me was the consistent use of RDF and triple-stored to solve many hard problems. The use of RDF and SPARQL seemed to be the primary distinguishing factor about if people thought you were really using semantic web technologies or not. If you we not using RDF, you were not really in the club, just and outsider looking in.

OWL Fragmentation

Another thing that also surprised me was the discord about the use of OWL and its relative sub-functions. Central to this was the rise of use-cases of simple things examples of things that OWL could not do. Much of this centered around DLP (Data Log Programming).

A good example of a non-OWL solution was the use of SKOS to store things typically stored in a metadata registry. SKOS is a great example of a simple standard, built on top of RDF that attempts to solve common problems without getting overly complex. See SKOS in Wikipedia.

We are also starting to see that rules must also be exchanged between systems in semantically precise ways. The need for a Rule Interchange Format (RIF). Nice to see vendors like FairIssac supporting complex business rules running INSIDE the web browser using XForms. They rock!

REST is Deep

Perhaps my favorite presentation was given by David Wood and Brian Sletten from Zepheria. In this presentation, David and Brian gave a demo of the NetKernel system. They demonstrated how NetKernel embraces REST at a much deeper level then I had previously anticipated. Now they were not yet generating XForms from an XML Schema but it showed a great example of convergent evolution of my ideas and theirs.

Case Studies

This year also started to show examples of new startup companies actually using semantic web technologies to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. Although because they are all trying to differentiate themselves, much of the actual technologies they were using was not disclosed.

RDF Taggers, Harvesters, Linkers and Analyzers

The conference seemed to have three sets of problems that everyone agreed on. First was how do you harvest RDF from a web page or any other resource. Most of these presentations related to getting RDF out of un-structured and structured data. Lots of discussion of microformats (pros and cons).

iReader Rocks

The coolest demo I saw was the iReader demo from http://www.syntactica.com. This is an awesome FireFox (and IE) extension that does concept mapping from unstructured text. The people behind this have been doing research on linguistics for about 40 years and have only recently got a round of venture capital to start to publicize this tool. But they are not yet converting to RDF for storage other systems.

URL Design Patterns

One common themes that came up was the need for best practices about good URL design. Everyone said a few things: The design of URLs is very important, most people screw it up the first time and then have to redo the designs, there are not a lot of good documents out there and the ones that are available are at least five years old. The people from the w3c did take notes on this.

Reception of My Paper

My presentation was titled “The Semantics of Declarative Systems”. This talk covered how by using a set of small languages with precise semantics, you can build entire applications that allow non-programmers to draw pictures of their business requirements and generate working Apps. The purpose of this talk was really to test the metaphors on how I could explain these concepts to non-computer scientists. I got some positive feedback and was happy to see convergent evolution of our designs with other organizations.

The URL to the paper is here:



Brian Sletten said...

Hi, Dan. Thanks for the kind words.

I, too, enjoyed your presentation. I really liked the fact that we were sending a similar message about how newer software is built from small, reusable pieces that are declaratively linked together to result in less code and more functionality. The fact that you used Mr. Yuk in your presentation was icing on the cake!

Good to meet you and I'll be in touch soon.


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